SriNagar, India: Sikhs use a raft to assist with flood relief in central Srinagar on 12 September 2014. Indian Kashmir’s main city has ‘drowned completely’ under floodwaters, a senior official said.
Families are struggling to contact around 50-60 British people as mobile phone networks have collapsed in the disaster.
More than 50 British citizens have been stranded for days by massive floods in Kashmir that have displaced more than a million people and killed over 450.
Overwhelmed authorities have struggled to cope with the extent of the disaster. On Thursday, the Pakistani army were forced to blow holes in dykes, inundating farmland, to protect major population centres.
Though waters have receded in recent days in India, swollen rivers fed by heavy monsoon rain continued to threaten major cities in neighbouring Pakistan. Further rains are forecast for the weekend.
This year’s floods in Kashmir are the deadliest in the territory in 50 years. “Srinagar has drowned completely, it’s unrecognisable. Almost everything is in ruins, it is just unimaginable,” Mehraj-Ud-Din Shah, state disaster response force chief of the Kashmir region, told AFP news agency by phone. He said work was “in full swing” to rescue people.
“Even now, around [100,000] people are believed to be stranded in different places,” he said.
Other estimates of those awaiting rescue were much higher, with some putting the figure at over half a million. Some of the stranded British citizens are in hotels or relief camps in or around Srinagar, the main city in Indian-administered parts of the disputed Himalayan former princedom. Others are in more remote villages.
Many have been unable to contact their families as mobile phone networks have collapsed in and around Srinagar.
Khalid Suhail, 35, from Shepperton in Surrey, has been unable to contact his mother and sister in Kashmir for over a week. “Like a lot of people, every day we’re trying different numbers to speak to them but there’s no connectivity. The whole infrastructure there has basically collapsed, it’s all under water,” he said.
Suhail described as “shocking” the relief efforts so far, calling on the British government to do more to help Britons caught up in the disaster.
“The relief efforts are very, very slow, there’s hardly anything going on. We don’t even know the full scale of it yet – there has been no news from the villages – and we hear they’re saving the ministers and politicians first and the common people are a second priority for them,” he said.
“We had a week of worry. We were just stuck not knowing. It’s a massive relief,” said the brother of one Birmingham-based woman, a mature student who had been staying with a friend in his village and who managed to contact her family after six days. He did not want to be named.
British officials in Delhi said they had compiled a list of “50 to 60” citizens who were stranded in Kashmir, but had no reports of any casualties. The names have been forwarded to Indian authorities who were working to evacuate them. Anyone in Kashmir was advised to stay in their hotels or other accommodation and await rescuers, one official said.
In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We are aware of the floods in Pakistan and India. We stand ready to provide consular assistance to British nationals affected.”
The British-Indian community has deep links with the Kashmir region. Many Kashmiris came to Britain in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of those stranded have family connections in Srinagar and elsewhere. Others are tourists.
Srinagar has also been hit by looting, leading some householders to risk their lives and stay with their homes to protect their property.
Jamal Ahmed Dar, who lives close to Srinagar’s Dal Lake, said his neighbours had already caught two looters red-handed. “We came across and then caught up with two young men on a boat who we didn’t recognise,” he said.
“When we searched them, we found they had cash and other belongings that they couldn’t account for. We gave them a bit of a slap, took the stuff back off them and then handed it over to the rescue coordinators.”
A spokesman for Save the Children in Srinagar described tens of thousands of people “living on streets, parks, temporary shelters in mosques and Sikh temples”.
“In most areas of the city, power supply has not been restored. Mobile phones are not working in most of the city and are erratic at best. There is severe scarcity of clean water. Food and fuel stocks are running low and those who can afford it are buying large quantities of basic items like medicines, salt and food stocks,” the spokesman said.
An analysis by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) warned that India would face “more and more” extreme weather events in the future.
Last year, flooding in northern India killed more than 5,000 people and caused massive damage. In 2010, the worst floods in Pakistan in living memory killed 2,000 and caused an estimated $10bn of damage.